Thursday, July 30, 2015

Tea at the Palace

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov

The more I travel around the globe the more I appreciate home. Granted, my home is San Francisco – the legendary American city of sophistication, elegance, and intellectualism as well as artistic spirit, inclusiveness, and openness to everything new and exciting.

I like to play tourist in San Francisco – visit its gorgeous hotels, eat in its posh restaurants, marvel at its museums and historic theaters, walk along the sights of unparalleled natural beauty. Swept with Pacific winds, steeped in summer fog, or baking in the hot autumn sun this city is endlessly magical, eternally majestic.

As a frequent traveler, I also appreciate all the little things that are readily available for the tourists (and for the locals) within the hospitality industry of San Francisco. The downtown Palace Hotel – one of the most magnificent hotels in the world – recently implemented a daily tea service in its spacious Garden Court restaurant, lavishly decorated with Italian marble columns, Austrian crystal chandeliers, and potted palms under the enormous Edwardian-style glass dome.

For a weary business or leisure traveler, just arriving from a long journey, what can be better than a pot of hot fragrant tea, beautifully served in the most welcoming space, alongside the light and elegant meal of freshly made finger sandwiches, scones, and pastries?

How I wish I could have THAT in so many hotels in so many cities of the world, where the only thing I could count on without venturing out was a full bar (as if I needed alcohol after all those dehydrating hours in the air) and deep fried bar food, heavy and greasy, and not helping at all!

But let me start from the very beginning. The daily tea service was inaugurated at the Palace Hotel in the glamorous year 1910. The corridors of the Garden Court were crowded with guests in opulent dresses and hats of the Belle Époque. Since then it became a staple of the hotel, and over the years, the iconic dining room has become part of San Francisco history, and afternoon tea – part of its many traditions. 
Shared stories of fond childhood memories, bridal and baby showers and engagement celebrations have helped make a tea at the Palace a truly magical experience. For 105 years, the tradition has continued, but for the past few decades, tea has been served only on Saturdays and over the holidays.
Today, this Saturday Signature Tea experience continues, while the Palace has added a more contemporary daily service in the GC Lounge (in the front area of the Garden Court). Specifically designed with the modern traveler in mind, Tea Time with its restorative attributes can now be enjoyed every day.

Saturday Signature Tea

Signature Tea is served exclusively on Saturdays from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m., and is one of a kind experience. Service is upscale, and fine china and silver are used to present delicate tea sandwiches and house-made scones with Devonshire cream, lemon curd and fruit jam. 

The sandwich assortment might include Sonoma breast of chicken with toasted almonds on brioche bun; roulade of salmon with chive crème and salmon roe on dark rye bread; asparagus and egg salad with Dijon parsley aioli on mini-croissant; lobster and shrimp on buttermilk toast, and Black Forest ham and artisan cheese with lavender mustard aioli on focaccia.

Assorted pastries are served on a three-tier tray, and are always abundant and breathtakingly delicious. A variety of teas – black, green, white, oolong, herbal – from the most reputable tea distributors in the world includes classic blends and creative infusions with high, medium and low caffeine.

Signature Tea is always enhanced by the decadent ambiance with large bouquets of freshly cut flowers and live harp or piano music. Reservations preferred.

Tea Time

Tea Time is served Sunday through Friday from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. It is offered in the GC Lounge. Tea Time restores an experience more than a century old, now re-imagined for today's savvy, cosmopolitan traveler. Service is refined but a little less formal. An a la carte menu showcasing locally sourced items allows visitors to enjoy the time-honored tradition with a casual approach. Tea Time menu options might include warm crab and Asiago cheese tart, organic egg remoulade sandwich, panini toasts with artisan meats and cheeses, and smoked salmon roulade.

On a sweet menu there are raspberry tart, sweet and salty walnut short bread, dark chocolate torte, strawberry and almond milk gelee, and house-made scones with all the trimmings. What a great way to relax and reinvigorate, have a break from sightseeing and shopping, a friendly meeting, or a brief business discussion. Tea Time in the GC Lounge is perfect to relax after a long flight, or recap the day's adventures and plan for the night ahead. Reservations are not required.

The Palace Hotel offers 556 newly renovated rooms, three ballrooms, 45,000 square feet of function space with 23 meeting rooms and 4 executive boardrooms, a self-contained conference area and full service business center. Luxury features include three famed restaurants – The Garden Court, GC Lounge and Pied Piper, 24-hour in room dining, and a newly renovated Fitness Center and indoor pool.

Centrally located, the Palace is steps away from the Financial District and Moscone Center, and within walking distance from designer boutiques, shopping areas, cable cars, the Embarcadero, Ferry Building Marketplace, Chinatown, AT&T Park, museums and theaters.

For tea reservations visit opentable.com or call 415-546-5089. Menus and more information are available at sfpalace.com.

Weekend Brunch at Yuzuki: Peace and Quiet, and Sake and Noodles

By Emm Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov





Yuzuki Japanese Eatery in San Francisco is a very special little restaurant with its own artistic character, thoughtful selection of traditional sake, and a strong focus on authentic food offerings (think house-made tofu made with organic soybeans, and marinated whole Hokkaido squid).
Unlike many ethnic cuisine restaurants that switch to eggs and bacon (and noisy weekends) as soon as they add brunch to their repertoire, Yuzuki holds its own – to the utmost satisfaction of its fans.

In the bustling Mission District, it’s rather refreshing to take a leisurely mid-day meal served in Japanese ceramic and wooden dinnerware, in a stylishly unassuming space with sparse yet enticing décor.
The 49-seat Yuzuki dining room reflects a philosophy of a stage where the food is the star. Yuko Hayashi, the owner of this fine establishment, is usually on the premises, overseeing the quiet and polite clockwork operation.

The weekend brunch menu at Yuzuki offers five hot varieties of noodles in broth, and one cold noodle dish with kakiage (mixed tempura) served with a dipping sauce.

Wine, beer, shochu (distilled spirit as opposed to brewed sake), and 30 kinds of sake are also available for brunch as well as umeshu (house-made plum wine), house-made non-alcoholic juices, and various Japanese teas.   
To get a grip of the extensive sake menu and its many beautiful names and definitions it would be wise to start with a tasting flight that consists of four samples – each from a different sake category – going from the lightest to the strongest.   

Served in glass and ceramic miniature cups on a wooden board, the Light & Elegant flight presents an interesting combination of fragrant sake, each with its distinct characteristics.
The first is from Daiginjo/Junmai Daiginjo category. It’s Kirin zan from Kirinzan brewery in Niigata – with aroma of golden delicious apples and steamed rice, and softness and clean sweetness on the palate.
The second from Ginjo/Junmai Ginjo category is Tensei “Songs of the Sea” from Kumazawa brewery in Kanagawa. This one has melon and caramel on the palate with a refreshing finish.
Then from Junmai category there’s Izumo Fuji from Fuji brewery in Shimane – with a strawberry aroma, and subtle earthiness.   
And finally, from Futsushu/Honjozo category there’s Eiko Fuji “Honkara” from Fuji brewery in Yamagata with silky mouthfeel, unripe melon note and clean dry finish.

The noodle-focused brunch menu at Yuzuki opens with Oyako – chunks of chicken meat fried in egg batter and served in a bowl of udon or soba noodles in broth. This is a warming and satisfying dish, accompanied by dried and marinated daikon (or other house-pickled vegetable) and a mixture of red pepper and sesame.  

Wagyu beef and scallions in hot broth also offers a choice of udon or soba noodles, and also presents a traditional Japanese dish – substantial, yet healthy and not overwhelming.

This kind of brunch allows for dessert. Anmitsu is a bowl of vanilla ice cream garnished with gelatinous agar squares, mocha, sweet azuki beans, and Okinawa black sugar syrup.

Mochi and green tea ice cream bowl also comes with sweet azuki beans, and presents another great light dessert option, especially delightful because of the strong-flavored house-made ice cream.

Yuzuki Japanese Eatery is located at 598 Guerrero Street, San Francisco, California. Dinner is served Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 6:00 to 10:30 p.m., Saturday, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. and on Sunday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Weekend brunch is offered from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Call for reservations (415) 556-9898, or visit www.yuzukisf.com.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Munich Monument Hopping

By Emma Krasov, photography by Emma Krasov
There are vacation travelers who think that long international flights are only justified by prolonged stays at their travel destinations. They even came up with a formula, “for every hour in the air a day on the ground.” Say, you fly to Munich for 12 hours, so you plan a 12-day leisurely vacation in the city for walking around and exploring.

I love leisurely vacations as much as the next girl, but by the nature of my job I have no such luxuries. My travel formula is a crude one, “for every hour in the air two hours on the ground.” Three, if I’m lucky.

That’s why I’m a big fan of Hop-on Hop-off buses available in all the big cities. The large comfortable double-deckers take visitors through the city streets to all the major attractions and stop right by the doors of palaces and museums.

Staying in Munich for only one full day I knew exactly what to do to make my short visit memorable.

Neat and clean, and equipped with a substantial breakfast, TRYP München City Center hotel provided exactly that – proximity to the city center as well as to the main train station Hauptbahnhof from where my Gray Line Sightseeing bus took me on a Grand Circle Tour of the city.

Just riding through the streets of the Bavarian capital is a great excursion on its own. Munich’s architecture is a mosaic of styles and time periods, with Gothic and Baroque buildings framed by the glass-and-cement cubes of contemporary design.

An imposing Neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) with a famous animated clock and 43 chiming bells on the central square Marienplatz is only steps away from the double-domed Frauenkirche which became the symbol of the city. In front of the town hall there’s Mariensäule – a 1638 column commemorating the end of the Thirty Years’ War and Swedish occupation.

A cluster of sights is conveniently located in and around the city center – the 15th century Old Town Hall, several historic theaters and art museums, an awe-inspiring 1746 Asamkirche – a genius creation of two brothers – an architect and a sculptor – and of course, a number of Bavarian-cuisine restaurants, like Cafe am Marienplatz, serving local brews and white veal sausages invented here in 1857.

My stop of choice in a sight-saturated city was Residenz Palace – the largest city palace in Germany and a former winter residence of the rulers of Bavaria in the course of 400 years.

The House of Wittelsbach started its rule back in 1180, and continued until 1918. The enormous architectural complex called Residenz has 130 rooms and 10 courtyards, and combines Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, and Neo-Classic styles in its lavishly decorated and well-preserved facilities.

Tall wooden double doors, guarded by the two bronze lions lead into the unimaginably rich collection of historical artifacts gathered inside the whimsically appointed ballrooms and bedrooms.

The very first 1586 Grotto room with a multi-figured fountain in the middle is made entirely of sea shells and crystals with a gilded statue of Perseus at the top – its elaborate design inspired by the Italian Renaissance gardens.  

The opulent 1571 Antiquarium (The Hall of Antiquities) contains an array of antique statues positioned under the densely frescoed arched ceiling.

The 1616 Imperial Hall with exquisite pink marble floors, tapestries and crystal chandeliers is followed by the endless rows of rooms encased in silk wall panels and adorned with gilded pilasters and countless paintings and statuettes.

Hours later, upon reaching the end of the display I could hardly walk, and my camera was shaking in my unsteady hands. Primarily, I had an ambitious plan to use a few Hop-on Hop-off stops to visit several sights, but by the time the Residenz palace was closing I barely managed to hop on the last scheduled bus. 

I was hungry, thirsty, and tired, but oh so happy to accomplish quite a feat in sightseeing in one full day in Munich!

I got a fast relief from thirst and hunger at the oldest city restaurant/brewery Augustiner Großgaststätten. This historic eatery still serves beer invented in 1294 by the local monks, which pairs splendidly with the many traditional dishes on the menu, like beer-marinated pork with crackling skin.

I knew that my body will soon forget its tiredness, but my eyes will always remember the amazing and inspiring sights (also stored in photographs I took on this trip).

Additional information at: www.muenchen.de.